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Published: June 12th 2017
After the four of us catch an early taxi to the Roatan airport, we head through security for a brief wait, before walking outside and boarding our 12-person puddle jumper to Belize City. We've never been on such a small plane, but sitting directly behind the pilot and looking at all the instrumentation and watching the co-pilot nod off for an hour was a bit unnerving. Luckily the skies were blue and the ride was smooth, it was almost like being on a tour as the plane flies quite low, although you certainly feel every bit of turbulence in every cloud as you fly through. We land in Belize City, meet up with the 2nd half of our crew, Steve, Anya, and Mel's brother Trevor. Make it through customs, pick up our minivan rental car, and drive 1.5 hours up to San Ignacio, through the very poor country that is Belize. We arrived in Belize too early to check into our lodging so we stopped about half way and checked out the Belize Zoo. This was a pleasant surprise, with all kinds of interesting local wildlife, with the highlight being a spotted jaguar and a black jaguar.
We make it
to Santa Elena, stop by the store for some supplies (primarily beer), and head up the side roads to our lodging. The VRBO we rented for 3 nights is an absolute mansion compared to anything else we've seen along the drive. A 3 bedroom oasis, behind a private gated property, on top of a hill with spectacular views, and a pool. We unpack and unwind for a bit, soaking up a beer and cooling off in the pool, while the cleaning lady finishes up getting the place ready. No rest for the weary when on a Therrien adventure, as before long we load back up into the minivan to explore the area. I read about a few waterfalls nearby, maybe an hour away off a few side roads. Well, those roads turned out to be dirt roads the minivan was not exactly very equipped for. However, we plowed through up into the Pine Ridge forest and made our way to Big Rock Waterfall. You have to park up top and walk down a pretty steep trail and stairs to get to the river, but once there it is oh so worth it. Beautiful secluded waterfall and pools to soak in.
After a few cliff jumps and river relaxation, the sun was starting to get low, so we head back up the steep hike and make the long drive back down the dirt roads. We stop at a local fast food joint, grab a few more beers, and call it an early night.
Day 2 we wake up early for our first tour, a hiking tour through the Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) caves. A friend recommended the tour, claiming it to be a top 5 experience of his life. I wouldn't go that far, but after a leisurely 1mi hike through the forest (and a couple river crossings) we are led through an amazing cave system that dates back some 1,500 years, where groups of Mayans lived and performed human sacrifices for hundreds of years. To this day, there are still a handful of human remains preserved in the limestone, as well as other pottery artifacts. After we get back from the hour drive following the tour, we stop again to load up on more supplies. We buy fruit, fish and veggies for a gourmet meal. The ladies do a lot of the prep in the kitchen having a grand
old time, while the boys relax outside handling the bbq. A fun night with a refreshing dip in the pool and a relatively early bed time, as we have to get up early for tour #2.
This time we are lead through customs into Guatemala, and after another hour or two we make it to our destination, the dominant ancient Mayan city of Tikal, which dates back to 4th century BC. Also known as the filming site of the end of the first star wars movie, when they celebrate their victory. After a few hours walking the national park, checking out some of the amazing historical architecture and getting a brief history of the city's existence, we enjoy our included lunch fare and head back home. We finish the rest of the food and booze and call it a night.
We make the drive back to the airport to return the minivan, which has been leaking oil since the day on the dirt roads. Alek, the paranoid traveler, felt the need to refill the oil daily just in case. Better to be safe than sorry. Anyway, we make it back to the airport, but we aren't flying, we
plan to take the ferry to Ambergris Caye. The car rental agency lady tells me we can drive to their facility closer to the port, so we don't have to pay for two taxis from here. The group had just unloaded the car, so they load all the bags back in and we head to the other facility. We are supposed to get a shuttle from there but they don't have a shuttle. So the team has to load the car for a third time as the agency has a driver take us to the port in our own minivan. Crazy drive flying by slower motorists in the bike lane, down one way streets, etc. We make it to the ferry just in time to catch the 45min boat to San Pedro for the 3rd leg of the trip...
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